The lake might get all the headlines, but it’s downtown that tells the real story of White Bear Lake. For generations, the town’s merchants have enhanced the fabric of the community by opening their doors to residents and visitors alike. While some spots come and go, others have stood firm in their commitment to the City of Lakes and Legends.
Home Away From Home
He stands out. It could be his bright golf shirt, but it isn’t. It might be the sound of his voice, but it isn’t. It’s the way he holds court, in the middle of the hardware store, a place where he feels very much at home. “When you walk in the door, it’s no different than walking into my home,” explains Larry Frattallone, owner of 19 metro area Frattallone’s Ace Hardware stores, of his business philosophy, “Treat the customers like we love them.”
Opening its first store in 1975 in Arden Hills, Frattallone’s welcomed its White Bear Lake location in 1984. “It’s a great community,” Frattallone says, and the customers haven’t changed all that much over the years.
Some change is inevitable, however, and son Mike Frattallone said the stores have a small presence on Facebook, with geomarketing and Twitter. A decade ago, there were those who felt neighborhood hardware stores were “going out of fashion,” he says, but consumers are turning their shopping carts around and returning to the smaller stores. “I think people value convenience, speed and quality,” he explains.
The way those customers maintain their homes, appliances, lawnmowers and snow blowers isn’t the same as it was in the ’70s. “You don’t buy parts now; you buy replacements,” explains the elder Frattallone, who is quick to add that his staff is willing and able to find replacement parts.
While he offices out of the Arden Hills facility, Frattallone is at ease at any of his hardware stores. To him, the stores are gathering spots, much like a local diner or a town square, where friends and neighbors come and go. This weekday noon hour at the White Bear Lake store, there is little time for idle chitchat. A customer walks in, Frattallone turns and says, “Can I help you...?”
Dave Abbott says one thing hasn’t changed since his family got into the home décor game in 1945: “Paint is the horse in this.”
His father, Howard Abbott, opened Abbott Paint & Carpet in 1945 on St. Paul’s Marshall Avenue, moving 25 years later to its current location on Grand Avenue. The family decided to venture out to White Bear Lake in 1991 (in what was Engen’s Paint) because they felt the residents were similar to St. Paul in their commitment to a tight-knit community. “The town was in transition. There were a lot of empty spaces,” shares Abbott. “Now, it’s a lot more stable. It’s a great community. They support their downtown.”
The store moved to its current location in 1994, and offers flooring, window treatments, wall coverings and paint, which has had a growth spurt. “Forty years ago, there was beige, beige, beige,” says Abbott. “Now, there are thousands of colors per manufacturer.”
Even with the computer-generated shades, Abbott notes, “our niche is still matching colors. Computers can’t pick up nuances or color changes or tones. Or read the customer’s mind. That’s what we’re doing.”
With a social media presence, Abbott Paint uses Facebook and Twitter to reach computer-savvy consumers. “It’s a hard thing to figure out,” admits Abbott. “We’re finding our way through that. It’s obviously the future.”
The company is full of familial knowledge of the business. In addition to Dave Abbott, and brothers Kevin (president), Steve and Tim, a cousin and a slew of nephews are also in the family business. Their inspiration may come by way of 90-year-old Howard, who arrives daily to the St. Paul site “swinging a cane.”
“My goal is to get the company out of this generation and into the next,” says Dave Abbott.
Frattallone’s Ace Hardware
4796 N. Highway 61 White Bear Lake
Abbott Paint & Carpet
2223 Fourth St. |
White Bear Lake